'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Saturday, March 2nd, 2013
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
March 2, 2013
Guests: Tom Shapiro, Heather McGhee, Amy Walter, Ed Pawlowski, Sherrilyn Ifill, , Matthew Wilson, James Perry, Ben Simon
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: This morning, my question, what in the
world was Justice Scalia talking about? And Jeff Sessions thinks that poor
people are making out like bandits. And we have an exciting update on a
recent foot soldier, but first, once again, Congress plays Lucy to the
American people`s Charlie Brown. Good grief.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry, and today is Saturday March 2nd.
Remember last Saturday when I said that in less than a week $85 billion of
automatic spending cuts would begin to take effect? Spending cuts that no
one wants and will leaving many Americans to having to take furloughs or
job layoffs? Well, happy sequester day, the sequester is here, and it
looks like it is here to stay, because even though the congressional
leadership met with President Obama at the White House yesterday morning,
nothing came of it. Both camps came out with the same talking points they
had when they started the meeting. Republican House Speaker John Boehner
moseyed on out of the White House with the same ole same ole to offer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Let`s make it clear that the
president got his tax hikes on January 1st. This discussion about revenue,
in my view, is over. It is about taking on the spending problem here in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And even though he heard it all before, President Obama gave
some of the Republican delegation the benefit of the doubt yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I do know that
there are Republicans in Congress who privately at least say that they
would rather close tax loopholes than let these cuts go through. I know
that there are Democrats who would rather do smart entitlement reform than
let these cuts go through, so there is a caucus of commonsense up on
Capitol Hill, it`s just -- it is a silent group right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: But, of course, we are well past common sense. I mean if
you`ve learned nothing else from the debt deal showdown, the fiscal cliff
and now the sequester, it is that putting together a fiscal plan for one of
the largest economies in the world apparently has nothing to do with common
sense, because here is common sense. Common sense tells you that when
someone holds out a football, you kick it. And when they pull it away just
as you are about to swing your leg, you might be a bit more cautious the
next time they hold the ball out for you, but we, the people, each have a
little bit of that Charlie Brown optimism in us, so we say, hey, OK, let`s
take another shot, but when once again just as we are about to kick the
ball, they snatch it away. I think it`s safe to say that we are never
going to get to kick the ball down the field. Let`s not forget that the
sequester, itself, was the punt of the punt from the original punt in the
2011 when Congress and the White House finally made a so-called deal on the
debt ceiling, and as the president reminded us yesterday, none of this was
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)`
OBAMA: We are here for American families who had been getting battered
pretty good over the last four years are just starting to see the economy
improve, businesses are just starting to see some confidence coming back,
and, you know, this is not a win for anybody. This is a loss for the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So, see that is the conventional wisdom here, just this week
there were several signs that the economy was continuing to recovery, a
revised estimate by the Commerce Department that showed that the U.S.
economy in fact, expanded just slightly in the fourth quarter of last year,
and on Thursday we learned that the number of Americans seeking
unemployment benefits fell by 22,000 and the dollar gained strength, but of
course, the longer the sequester lasts the longer that many of these gains
could be rolled back. That is just the common sense approach to politics.
That is the rationale that makes you think that in a deliberative democracy
opposing parties could be convinced by the process of, you know, sharing
information, exchanging data, listening to one another`s arguments, but, in
fact, the only argument that ever sways our politicians towards cooperation
is that their position becomes a political liability, that good old fear of
losing their jobs.
But it looks like even though all our political leaders packed up and went
home this week without doing their jobs, it looks like we will be the
hardworking Charlie Browns in this country, because we are going to end up
on our butts. With me is Amy Walter, senior editor of the Cook Political
Report, Tom Shapiro, director of the Institute of Assets and Social Policy
at Brandeis University, Heather McGhee, vice president of Policy and
Outreach of the public policy think tank Demos.org. And Democratic Mayor
of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Ed Pawlowski, our favorite mayor, because he
brings doughnuts when he comes. But we have our fruitplay (ph) today,
which is apparently the sequester, and fruitplay, because it`s about --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look so much bigger.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right because it looks bigger and right in real life, and
it`s a smaller one.
THOMAS SHAPIRO, DIR., INST. OF ASSETS & SOCIAL POLICY, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY:
I don`t know. I miss the doughnuts.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, right, right. But this is exactly what we are talking
about, right? We are talking about everything across the board, every
single thing is now going to get cut, not with any kind of reason, but just
because we manufactured a crisis. Amy?
AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Yes, we are pretty good at
HARRIS-PERRY: Why? Why?
WALTER: Well, that`s -- I appreciate when the president came out and said,
you know, there are -- this silent -- there`s the silent caucus of
reasonable people up here. Actually, there aren`t.
WALTER: There are not reasonable people.
HARRIS-PERRY: They are not silent, or they are just not there.
WALTER: You know what? Because they are gone. They used to exist ten
years ago there were Democrats who would vote who were moderates, there
were Republicans who were moderate and over the last few years starting in
2006 and then going, of course, through the redistricting of 2012, they are
gone. 96 percent of Democrats sit in districts Barack Obama won. 94
percent of Republicans sit in districts that Mitt Romney won. There is
zero incentive for them to work on the other side. Why would they do that?
The people -- they say my constituents are telling me to stay strong, and
they are not lying, because their constituents --
HARRIS-PERRY: Because their constituents are --
WALTER: -- look like the party that they represent.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I`ve got to say, that does come to a point which
constituents are going to want something to be done. I want to listen to
the president, and at one point a reporter asked him a question yesterday,
and the questions was simply, can you actually sequester Congress, like
(inaudible). Can you make them all sit in a room until this is done and
listen to the president`s response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Couldn`t you just have them down here and refuse to
let them leave the room --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- until you have a deal?
OBAMA: You know - the -- I mean, Jessica, I am not a dictator. I am the
president. So ultimately if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say we need to
go to catch a plane, I can`t have Secret Service block the doorway.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. Heather, so I get that, but I mean, I change flights,
we are talking $75, $100 fee to change your flight, the president even has
his whole own plane that maybe he could lend to the speaker, are you
seriously telling me that it is fine for them to say, OK, I`ve got to get
on the plane. At what point must they do their jobs?
HEATHER MCGHEE, V.P. POLICY AND OUTREACH, DEMOS: I mean I think what`s the
problem here is that you are right, Amy, that it is true that, you know,
the districts are really polarized, but what has happened is that it is not
so much a right/ left issue as the Washington/rest of the country issue,
right? Because even the Republicans in those Republican districts want
balanced approaches, want tax increases as well, (INAUDIBLE) on the
wealthy, closing corporate loopholes. This is sort of a common sense thing
that even the Republican base wants. But when you have the Beltway bubble,
which is really surrounded by thousands of lobbyists and the donor class
setting the agenda, the real division becomes between Washington and rest
of us, not between Democrats and Republicans.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s what you say, Rick Scott, the Republican of Florida
said exactly this, let`s listen, and then, Tom, I will have you respond to
Oh, I`m sorry. Actually, we don`t have him saying it so I will say it.
But this is Rick Scott saying "The impacts on Florida`s military
installations and defense industries will be severe under sequestration,
and our immediate concerns include dramatic reduction to the National
Guard, which threatens our ability to respond to wildfires in spring and
hurricanes this summer. So here you have a Republican governor, Tom, who
is saying -- yeah, this sequester is real for us as ordinary people on the
SHAPIRO: Well, we all really would like to hope that the nation`s
business, actually, is more important than doing a fundraiser or chicken --
another dinner on Saturday afternoon somewhere else.
SHAPIRO: But I think the governor starts to hit at what many people think
will be the impact down the road that might change some of the balance on
this, and that is as the cuts start to hit real people in their real lives,
and they start to respond. I mean, I think we are seeing both very, very
painful kinds of hits with this sequester. And those are the ones that the
governor and others talk about, but I`m also very much concerned about the
investment for the future, so it is not just about what we don`t have
tomorrow, it is about what the nation, our families and our children aren`t
going to have next two or three years.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Because those effects are cumulative, right? I mean
there`s the kind of dramatic impact at this moment, but then it is
cumulative. So let`s take a look at what some of those sequester cuts are,
and I want you to respond, Mayor. We are looking at more than a 1 million
federal workers going on furlough, 800,000 Defense Department furloughs,
70,000 cut -- students cut from Head Start, 14,,000 teachers cut, and 9.4
percent cut to unemployment, there are the only things in part that have
kept the economy humming at all. And now we`re going to go -- kind of
getting a body blow to our economy that`s just beginning to recover.
MAYOR ED PAWLOWSKI, (D) ALLENTOWN, PA: Absolutely. And, you know, on the
short term, it is estimated just in Pennsylvania that there is going to be
$11 million of wages lost in the short term, over 53 million, if this goes
on to the next year. Those are -- that`s real money in real people`s
pockets, that are going to, you know, are helping to fund our economy. So
it`s going to have some real life impacts for cities. It`s devastating. I
mean we`re already starting, we`re already stretched to the breaking point
because of all the other cuts the Congress has made. And many of the
programs that are going to be cut are going to affect cities, I think,
disproportionately where the majority of your revenue is being generated
for our economies nationwide, and, you know, everything from education to,
you know, housing for the homeless to flu shots.
PAWLOWSKI: I mean I was talking to my health director, you know. We`re
going to proudly have to turn away over 1,000 kids from flu shots in a
season that has been, you know, flu has had an enormous impact on us.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And we`re looking at even more lost wages. We are
going to stay on exactly that topic of the real life experience, because
here we are once again -- I mean I feel like Charlie Brown. I keep saying,
OK, this time it is going to be better, and then every time seeing that
football yanked away. So when we come back, we are going to go beyond the
Beltway to exactly the issues they mayor was talking about -- real people
suffering because of Washington`s dysfunction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: All of this will cause a ripple effect throughout our economy.
Layoffs and pay cuts means that people have less money in their pockets,
and that means that they have less money to spend at local businesses, that
means lower profits, that means fewer hires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s quite straight forward as the president made clear on
Friday the sequester means less money in the American people`s pockets and
the ripple effects of the cuts will be strongly felt at the state and local
level. The impact on just one state, Pennsylvania, will be millions upon
millions, almost $48 million less in education funding, putting 360 teacher
and teacher aide jobs at risk, and between 60 and 90 million in HUD and
USDA housing and homelessness aid lost to the sequester, which is a
manufactured crisis. To bring a final point to these huge figures we have
Mayor Ed Pawlowski from Allentown, Pennsylvania, who, of course, always
brings doughnuts and brought doughnuts today. There they are in the
control room, because I am not eating the doughnuts, but the producers are,
but look, we always love you because you bring the doughnuts, but you also
bring us that sense of sort of what all of this means to ordinary people on
the ground, when we look at the sequester cuts to state budgets, education,
$1.3 billion including $1 billion to special education, in WIC, which is
women, infants and children nutrition program, 550 million in cuts, for
Armed Forces jobs, we`re looking at $15 billion in the Army, $11 billion in
the Navy, $7.7 billion in the Air Force. What does this mean if you live
in in your town?
PAWLOWSKI: It`s huge. I mean you can`t expect billions of dollars worth
of cuts in these departments not to have an effect on all our economies.
And for us in Allentown, it is going to be significant. Like I said, you
know, before the break, we have flu shots, you know, and we are estimating
over500 -- I`m sorry -- 5,000 kids in Pennsylvania will not be able to get
flu shots, because of the funds that are being cut for health and human
services. Meals on Wheels, you know, because of the nutrition programs --
PAWLOWSKI: You know, I mean I guess seniors are going to have to go out
and fend for themselves.
PAWLOWSKI: It is just basic.
HARRIS-PERRY: Or more reasonably, they are just going to go hungry.
PAWLOWSKI: Yes, they are just going to go hungry. And, you know, school
funding, we`re looking about $1.8 just in Allentown --
PAWLOWSKI: Over 100 kids not going to head start, I mean this is -- it`s
real life cuts, it`s going to be devastating over the long term, the
cities are already struggling from all of the cuts that have been already
been made in Congress. And this is only going to make matters worse. I
mean, millions upon millions upon millions of dollars that I said in
Pennsylvania alone not going back into our economy, how does this help us?
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, and that is exactly the question. And how would this
help? I want -- the one I think that just -- I am sorry, I`m just beside
myself today, but the fact that we are already reducing the debt, I think,
is the part that really is just sticking to me. The fact that we are
already seeing a reduction in our debt that we are not in a debt crisis,
not only the manufactured crisis, but the reason for the manufactured
crisis is also manufactured. How is this sort of set of false information
so widely available that people believe we have to make these kinds of
WALTER: So I think we have two things. But first is your Lucy analogy.
WALTER: There is not a level of optimism, but there is also a fatigue out
there, and that`s why you go on to talk about the cuts, the president talks
about cuts, how devastating this is going to be, you know what public says,
I am tired of it, you guys say this every couple of weeks --
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see.
WALTER: What I`m going to believe. That is why you`re not seeing the
public as engaged in this --
HARRIS-PERRY: I see.
WALTER: I think as the president thought they would be. The second is, I
sat down --
HARRIS-PERRY: We also gave it the name sequester.
HARRIS-PERRY: That does not help. It is a bad name.
WALTER: You need to have Armageddon somewhere.
WALTER: Absolutely. March 1 is --
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, March 1 is Armageddon, well, maybe it would have been
WALTER: So, I said in a group, this is a focus groups of moms --
WALTER: All right, they are in Kansas City, they are all in the same boat
as a lot of middle class moms, struggling economically, they don`t care,
the deficit to them -- this gray in bargain (ph) that means zero to them.
WALTER: Here is what they are concerned about: their day-to-day live
WALTER: We talked about how much it costs to fill up their gas tank, I
wrote about this, the other day that this one woman said, you know,
basically here is what I need. I need to understand that the people in
Washington understand my day-to-day life, not all of this ideological
battle, that`s not going to pay for braces.
HARRIS-PERRY: But they were -- I mean -- the thing is, though, Tom we just
had an election and people did make a choice between two different
possibilities, and they picked the guy, this Senate and, in fact, the
Congress, even though we just kept it from turning out that way, they
voted for more people who said let`s raise taxes on the rich and let`s not
make major cuts.
SHAPIRO: So we just had a national election --
SHAPIRO: -- where some of those issues were in fact before us, and we had
a conversation, a debate, people went to the polls and we made a decision
as the nation. But wait a minute, sequester. A fancy word for let`s redo
our priorities, let`s meet behind the doors, let`s have a forced, a forced
set of cuts that create a crisis today, that become our structure tomorrow.
So I just want to dig down on one little fact here. We are talking about
housing, we are talking about it in terms of money. The translation is
that about 125,000 families that currently have housing choice vouchers are
going to lose them. And half of those families have a member that either -
- either is a person with disabilities or is elderly, and as a policy
choice, I would like people to raise their hands if they think that that is
a good priority to make that kind of cut.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So we are going to cut -- and we`re going to balance
this deficit that we are already bringing down, we`re going to do it on the
backs of those with disabilities and with our elderly.
SHAPIRO: That is right.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we come back, I want to give you more on this, Amy,
because I want to know what`s going to happen next, I`m going to ask you
the same question, not only what`s going to happen next, but what happened
to our outrage about inequality that was part of the discourse that brought
up us to this election where I thought we had already made a choice about
that, and in fact, we are also going to talk about the one, the one thing
that could save us, God. When we come back.
BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: As we anticipate an across the board set of
budget cuts becoming law in our land, we still expect to see your goodness
prevail. Rise up, oh, God, and save us from ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Good grief! Even the Senate chaplain is blaming the
country. This is the manmade disaster and it isn`t, by the way, the first
time he has made exactly that point. Remember the last self-inflicted
fiscal crisis just two months ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLACK: As we gather with so much work left undone, guide our lawmakers
with your wisdom. Look with favor on our nation and save us from self-
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That we have to keep praying, Lord, save us from ourselves.
SHAPIRO: I love this guy. He is great.
HARRIS-PERRY: Isn`t he great? We such seriousness, save us from
MCGHEE: It is not save us from ourselves, it`s save us from the decisions
that has been made by a very tiny group of people that is not
representative of the ideology, the beliefs systems, the hopes and
aspirations of the vast majority of the country. And frankly , we have to
remember why we are in this pickle at all. It`s because of a level of
deficit and debt that was brought to us not by the president, not by
someone that was elected in 2008, but the biggest four drivers of our
fiscal problems that they are the two wars paid for on a credit card --
MCGHEE: The Bush tax cuts and then, of course, the financial crisis which
was brought to us by a conservative economic ideology --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And the deregulation of Wall Street.
MCGHEE: And the deregulation of Wall Street. Yes, absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, somehow that is lost. I mean Occupy Wall Street gave us
a moment when we were focusing on that, but now somehow it`s as though the
deficit is causal for economic problems rather than the other way around.
MCGHEE: Exactly. And, in fact, when the solution is economic growth,
fairly distributed economic growth, more jobs grow from the bottom up, than
the middle-out, and that is what is actually well within the power of the
American government to do. The Americans Jobs Act, even some of the thing
that the president spoke about in his State of the Union address, universal
Pre-K, you know, a program that would help give money to communities to
help refurbish schools targeted to the most badly hit communities, these
are real things that can make a difference, they can get us out of this
hole, and we`re simply not doing them, because of political malpractice.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Amy, is that why we are not doing them? In other words,
so you know, we hear OK, Heather say, if we were dealing with these, then
we could start talking about, for example, raising the minimum wage,
addressing income inequality, is the reason that we are doing this so that
we do not have to do that?
WALTER: We`re talking about this so that we don`t have to move on to doing
a lot of these things. I mean, look, the president won the election and he
wanted to make this next four years about certain things, he made that very
clear on election night, he`s made it clear since -- in his inauguration
speech, but you`re right. We go from this to we`ve now averted potentially
a government shutdown, that`s the one thing they did agree to, we`re not
going to shut the government down. We have another debt ceiling fight
that`s coming up. We have a budget fight coming up. So we`re going to be
caught up per now -- at least through May in these things. Plus, if these
cuts do start hitting and real people start complaining --
WALTER: Then they`re going to have to start figuring out how they -- to
try to reel that back in, so we are going to be spending a lot of time on
that, and we are not spending the time on -- even the things that are
demote -- right in front of us right now, immigration reform or gun
control, those are the two things that are sitting on the back seat, and
the question in my line is, that we`ve poisoned the well so much now with
these lawmakers that really we get absolutely nothing done. Last Congress
was the least productive Congress in the history of Congress --
WALTER: And that is hard to do.
PAWLOWSKI: And it has to be really hard to do nothing, because you never
know when you are done, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: We are still doing nothing. Yeah.
PAWLOWSKI: It is almost like save us from amnesia, you know, because we
continuously keep forgetting like you talked about the dialogue. You know,
I mean only a few months ago we had that dialogue, it is like every other
day, they have like a case of amnesia where they just forget what they
talked about and what was happening before.
HARRIS-PERRY: But this was the Charlie Brown problem, right? I mean you
know -- we know -- we even know it since 1952 that Lucy is always going to
take the ball away, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet every time here comes Charlie. But I think that`s
my concern that if we start seeing our government as Lucy, then do we not
even think it is capable of doing the things that it can? Right, I mean,
this is part of your work, Tom, that the government has in fact been
extraordinary good in crafting a middle class, in creating the sets of
policies that could put America back to right as it once did, but if we
have lost our faith in our ability to do that collectively, then we end up
with these petty fights instead.
SHAPIRO: Part of the reason we (inaudible) is because, in fact, the
government has stopped doing that --
SHAPIRO: And a lot of the policies around housing, around education,
around the entire wealth of America`s middle class, I would make the case,
we have withdrawn from that. We have really moved -- we`ve shifted the
risk from public investment, which we used to do really well, with proven
(ph) tools to privatization of mobility ladders and safety nets.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah. And this is -- this is the thing when the president
said that he needed a Jedi mind meld, which, of course, is absolutely
wrong, because of the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" and yet, you wanted like,
you wanted like -- yes, Jedi mind meld, like put it all together, the "Star
Trek" and the "Star Wars" because somehow we need to be able to communicate
to our leaders that in fact what is happening in Washington is not
responding to the needs of ordinary people.
So, up next, it is that time of the show when I send my weekly letter to
somebody, Usually somebody who says something that certainly needs a
response. Any guess who that might have been this week? Here is
Congressman John Lewis on Reverend Al`s "Politics Nation" sending a bit of
a letter himself this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-GEORGIA: It is an affront to all of what the civil
rights stood for, what people died for, what people bled for, and those
who`ve also marched across the bridge 48 years ago. We did not march for
some racial entitlement, we wanted to open up the political process and let
all of the people come in.
HARRIS-PERRY: On Wednesday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the
case that could mean the end of a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights
Act. At the heart of the case, this is a questions of whether states with
a long history of racial discrimination must still get permission from the
Justice Department before changing their voting laws. Now, we`re going to
have to wait until summer for the court`s decision, but we could take a
pretty good guess about what one of the justices thinks about the VRA right
now. In comments that made lawyers gasp when they were listening at the
court, he made no secret of his feeling about the law, and that is why he
is getting my letter today.
Dear Justice Scalia. It`s me, Melissa. And by now we know you well enough
to know there is not much you can say or do that will come as a surprise.
When we can set our watches by the decisions that you predictably make that
are always in alignment with the court`s most radically conservative
reasoning. We know that unlike your friend Justice Clarence Thomas who
have a permanent mute button on, you will always voice an opinion, and it
will be heavily influenced by your political agenda, but even given all of
that, what you had to say during Wednesday`s oral arguments still came as a
genuine shock. Commenting on Congress`s nearly unanimous reauthorization
of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, you said "I don`t think that it is
attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this.
I think it is attributable, very likely attributable to a phenomenon that
is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. You went on to say, I`m
fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity, unless the court can
say it does not comfort with the Constitution. It`s a concern that this is
not the kind of question you can leave to Congress. Racial entitlement,
not a question you can leave for Congress! Look, even for you, Justice
Scalia, this is a particularly willful misreading of the Constitution you
claim to adore.
So let`s take a look at that august document. Right here, in section 5 of
the 14th Amendment and again in section 2 of the 15th amendment, is, in
fact, the same entitlement, a congressional entitlement and it reads, the
Congress shall have power to enforce by appropriate legislation the
provisions of this article." You see, Congress, does, in fact, have the
authority to enforce both equal protection and the franchise for American
citizens, especially when those citizens live in the former confederate
states. In fact, the 14th amendment spends much of the sections 2, 3 and 4
spelling out precisely how those states who were involved in insurrection
and rebellion will be treated differently, because these were states where
the economies and culture rested on intergenerational chattel bondage of
human beings. And they were so determined to keep holding human beings in
slavery that they got together in armed rebellion against our country.
Some of those same states more than 150 years later are still trying to
pass laws that would deny the right of vote to the very people the Voting
Rights Act, and Section 5 in particularly were meant to protect. So,
excuse me, Antonin. I`m a little dismayed that you now describe the rights
of citizenship as a racial entitlement. Contrary to what you are
suggesting, the Voting Rights Act was no gift to give in by the government
to black people, it`s primary purpose was to enforce a right that was
already enshrined in the Constitution, but had been repeatedly flouted by
southern governments, and here is what you missed, Scalia, a great thing
occurred in the 1860 when Congress had to grapple with how to include the
formally enslaved within the circle of citizenship. That effort led
Congress to articulate due process, equal protection, and the federally
protected rights to vote -- and those pillars of citizenship apply to
everyone. The opposite of a special entitlement, but the Constitutional
amendments, they just weren`t enough, and it took an active Congress almost
100 years later to make those promises a reality for all. So Justice
Scalia when you spew that entitlement discourse from the bench, you
undermine the very core of our democracy, but you know what? I`m still
going to say thank you, because on Wednesday, you show all of us exactly
who you are, and in the words of the late great poet, the notorious BIG, if
we didn`t know, now we know. Sincerely, Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Perhaps just as disturbing as Justice Antonin Scalia`s
remarks about the Shelby County versus Holder oral arguments was what
Justice Clarence Thomas had to say. Yeah, that is right, folks, in a case
that may leave the voting rights of millions of people of color unprotected
the lone African-American man on the court said nothing. But that
certainly was not the case for Chief Justice John Roberts who asked this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: General, is it -- is it the government submission
that the citizens in the south are more racist than citizens in the north?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Chief Justice Roberts also made this observation earlier.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Which state has the greatest disparity in
registration between white and African-American?
GENERAL VERRILLI: I do not know that .
ROBERTS: Massachusetts, third is Mississippi where again, the African-
American registration rate is higher than the white registration rate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It doesn`t sound to me like Chief Justice Roberts just made
a hell of a compelling case for the extension of the section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act to the state of Massachusetts. But we go now to the
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, the sight of Bloody Sunday where
people were marching for the right to vote in 1965 and they were brutally
beaten by the police. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director and counsel
of the NAACP`s legal defense fund is there for the annual recreation of the
march. And she joins me now. Hi, Sherrilyn, nice to see you.
SHERRILYN IFILL, PRES.& DIR., COUNSEL, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Good
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, so we heard that Chief Justice makes this argument, that
there are racists everywhere, as far as I could tell, and that therefore
there is no basis for pre-clearance in the south? Is that a reasonable
IFILL: No, it is not a reasonable argument, and it was pretty shocking to
hear in that courtroom, it was among the most kind of multiracial
assemblages, I think, ever, that`s set to here an argument before the
Supreme Court. And so, to hear the kinds of statements that -- that
certainly Justice Scalia made and even that Justice Roberts made, as I was
sitting next to our clients, who were from Shelby County, Alabama. And
who can tell you about what racial entitlement has been like there as to
White Power structure has tried to maintain control in that jurisdiction
for decades, and so to hear that statement there was pretty shocking. I
have to tell you , just listening to you recounted, hearing it here as I am
at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as you describe, the site of the
March in 1965 made the statements even more disturbing. I think John Lewis
got it right when he said, you know, it was not a front. I wrote about it,
you can find my account of it on our Web site.
There was a gasp that kind of happened when Justice Scalia made his
comments, it did feel like a kind of a slap, because here we all were, you
know, with a 1,500-page record that Congress has assembled. And that`s
really the issue that`s before the court. It does not really matter at the
end of the day what Chief Justice Roberts thinks is the nature of racial
discrimination in 2013 or what Justice Scalia thinks or even what Justice
Sotomayor thinks, the question is, what did Congress think, and did they
have a basis for the decision that they made in 2006? And they can`t
ignore the record that Congress assembled over the course of a year
demonstrating ongoing racial discrimination throughout this country.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I want to pause there for a moment. Because just, you
know, in case folks have missed this, that when the 1965 Voting Rights Act
was re-authorized most recently in 2006 it was with overwhelming mere
unanimous support including a 98 to zero vote in the U.S. Senate, including
that means therefore, basically, all of the senators in the states that are
covered by a pre-clearance.
IFILL: Well, but that is what got Justice Scalia so agitated, he suggested
that the fact that it was a unanimous vote in the Senate must mean that
this is the perpetuation of racial entitlement and that it`s hard to
reverse that, he said, once it happens. You know, it`s kind of interesting
since Justice Scalia`s confirmation vote was 98 to zero in the Senate. I
mean he essentially was using the fact that we`ve got this wonderful
progress that`s happened so that the senators, even from the states covered
by section 5 realized the need for the ongoing pre-clearance requirements.
He used that to suggest -- this must mean that this is a racial entitlement
and we as the court will have to step in, because we cannot trust Congress.
I though it was an extraordinary statement and I would be very surprised if
a majority of our Supreme Court justices wanted to line up behind those
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, Sherrilyn, please stay with me, I`m sorry -- I`m still
laughing at the idea that we can somehow turn this back and say that the
confirmation of Justice Scalia was clearly a racial entitlement. But stay
with me, because we`re going to come back, bring up a couple of more voices
in and we are going to keep Sherrilyn on this conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: We won`t know the fate of the voting rights act until at
least June, because that is when the Supreme Court is set to deliver a
decision. At stake is the pre-clearance requirement in section 5 of the
VRA, which requires all part of 16 states to get permission from the
Justice Department before any changes are made to election laws, the court
must decide whether that requirement is still necessary and the debate is
particularly timely given, but section 5 was used to block voter I.D. laws
last year in Texas and South Carolina -- two states covered by the pre-
clearance. At the table, Heather McGhee of Demos and Allentown,
Pennsylvania Mayor Ed Pawlowski. And still with me, from Selma, Alabama,
Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP legal defense fund. So, Heather, it did feel
to me like the fact that we are hearing this at this moment seems shocking,
because, in fact, this was an issue in this election.
MCGHEE: Absolutely. I think it is really ironic, because we have had in
this past election cycle more attention, more everyday Americans
recognizing the lengths, to which politicians will go to shape the
MCGHEE: And the fact is, just because the American Legislative Exchange
Council, the sort of corporate-backed lobbying in legislation --
HARRIS-PERRY: ALEC. Yes, ALEC.
MCGHEE: Yes, legislative group was able to import what had been
essentially mostly just a southern tactic of voter I.D. laws across the
country in sort of a blitzkrieg fashion in 2010 and 2011. It does not
mean, so now it is in Pennsylvania, now it is in Wisconsin, now it`s in
plays that are not covered by the Voting Rights Act. But that does not
mean that it is suddenly unconstitutional for us to protect the voting
rights of millions of Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and I think just part of the reason I wanted you at
the table, mayor, is look, they are not wrong, the justices when they
mention that Pennsylvania for example, Ohio, states not covered by pre-
clearance were particularly egregious in this particular election.
PAWLOWSKI: Absolutely. I mean we had a voter I.D. law that would have
disfranchised 758,000 folks, mostly, you know, minority folks and the
elderly. We are still fighting that. I mean that the courts still have
not totally decided that issue. Now, we have another attack on ability to
vote. They are trying to take away the winner takes all electoral --
PAWLOWSKI: You know, college vote, which would divide it up in the
congressional districts, which are so absolutely ridiculous gerrymandered
that, you know, it is really impacting on the individual`s right to vote.
PAWLOWSKI: And I`ve got a district that goes from Allentown all the way to
the middle of the state that just snakes around like a big snake, the one
that looks like a question mark.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yeah, and this to me always sounds more like reason to
extend the section 5 than it does to pull it back? I want to draw this to
PAWLOWSKI: And we need more scrutiny, not less.
IFILL: Right. Like some more people who will more jurisdictions than we
need to have it pre-cleared. I want to listen to Justice Sotomayor,
because we`ve been listening, unfortunately, so much to Scalia and Roberts.
I want to listen to Sotomayor asking this question presumption. So she`s
started to saying, may I ask you a question. And let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: May I ask you a question, assuming I accept your
premise and there is some question about that, that some portions of the
south have changed, your county pretty much hasn`t.
MR. REIN: Well --
SOTOMAYOR: In the period we are talking about it has many more
discriminating -- 240 discriminatory voting laws that were blocked by
section 5 objections. There were numerous remedied by section 2
litigation. You may be the wrong party bringing this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Sherrilyn, I mean -- you know, Sotomayor just kind of laid
it out there, maybe -- maybe race is better, but not where you live, my
IFILL: And that was the very beginning of the argument. She really set
the tone. And obviously, she has read the record that Congress amassed.
The great story -- the great story, Melissa, is that people are fighting
back, people recognize the importance of voting rights, is that the Supreme
Court has said that our right to vote is preservative of all rights. The
organizers down here this weekend are expecting thousands of people to
march and join in that reenacted march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
This is the history that is very present, not only for people in Alabama,
but for people all over this country who`ve come down here for this march.
And so, it really comes at the right time, that argument and the statements
that were made, by the justices. We are very, very optimistic that the
case will be won, because Congress did it`s job, they amassed a record,
Americans know what is happening with voting in their cities and towns all
over this country, and I hope people will stay tune and really watch what`s
going to unfold this weekend here, in Alabama as Americans really
reinforce their right to vote and really take it to the streets.
HARRIS-PERRY: Heather, is that part of what we are seeing here? I mean
you mentioned earlier, people are more aware, maybe, of the Voting Rights
Act or of section 5, is that going to be real pressure on the justices?
MCGHEE: I hope so. Because it is true that we have seen the Supreme
Court, which for many of us was the court that -- the body in our politic
that actually was able to uphold the constitutional rights of the 14th and
the 15th amendment, but gave us "Brown v. Board." And we have always had
this idea, at least people of my age growing up, the Supreme Court, it will
give us our civil rights, right? This idea that (ph) sort of is the part
of government that would enshrine them first --
MCGHHE: And they do the most protective of the rights of they -- from the
tyranny of the majority, and yet, we are seeing that this court has been
the trying to -- majority opinion of the Roberts` court.
MCGHEE: Between campus-based diversity, voting rights, a lot of other
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean the things sitting on the docket right now are
astonishing, right, this court is going to get to see affirmative action,
this court is going to see the Voting Rights Act, this court is going to
see defense of marriage. Sherrilyn, you were here with us last week to
talk about some of that, so anything you heard in what the justices were
discussing this week, and the way that they are referring questions, it
gives you some idea about where is it going in all this cases?
IFILL: Well, I think what was important was, you know, hearing all of the
justices with the exception of Clarence Thomas speak and sound really very,
very engaged. I think the questions that were most important to me were
the ones about, you know, whose job is it to declare that racial
discrimination in this case in voting has ended? The court recognizing and
justices on the court recognizing that in some ways they have a limited
role. There are areas, in which they have, you know, an expansive role,
they get to say, what the kind of -- you know, to interpret the
Constitution and what the Constitution says, but there are certain things
that have been allocated to Congress, and one of the things allocated to
Congress, of course, is enforcing the right to vote. And you heard
justices really grappling with that issue. This question of the power
between Congress and the Supreme Court is one that has residents not only
for the voting rights case, but for many cases. And so, those questions
were really of greatest interest to me.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, absolutely. Thank you so much, Sherrilyn for joining us
HARRIS-PERRY: -- Edmund Pettus Bridge. And reminding us, that not only --
that the most recent history of the 2012 election, but living history in
which we saw people --
HARRIS-PERRY: -- killed for trying to just have the right to the
franchise, which is in fact enshrined in our constitution. Thank you also
to the Mayor Ed Pawlowski for joining us. I always appreciate your voice
at the table. And coming up next, black, white and green -- the real
reason behind the racial wealth gap. And also, one of our favorite foot
soldiers is going to join us live in studio. So many others are now
following in his footsteps. There is more of Nerdland after top of the
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. This has got me
irritated. The magazine "Bloomberg Business Week" found itself in a bit of
a racial pickle on Thursday when images of its new cover went so viral and
I just can`t imagine why. The cover, as you can see, teases a story about
the great American housing rebound and guess who is shown benefiting? Yes,
the grinning barefooted black man clutching mad loot along other assorted
characters with exaggerated racial features. I can`t figure out how he has
all of the money, but none to buy shoes.
OK, it is not a good look for "Businessweek", something they already know,
because the magazine did apologize on Thursday for this cover.
But it`s not so much the grinning bug-eyed Sambo with the new home, it`s
the lie it represent represents, namely that whatever housing crisis there
was, it was short lived and those are the minorities back out there who are
making out like bandits.
Now, we all know that the reality is much different. The subprime mortgage
crisis which disproportionately hit those homeowners only served to
exacerbate what was already a systemic inequity in America`s housing
A new study out this week from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at
Brandeis University underscored just how unequal things have become.
Tracing 1,700 households over 25 years, the study found that the wealth gap
between white and African-American families has widened exponentially,
increasing from $85,000 in 1984 to more than $236,000 in 2009.
And here`s what the gap looks like. It`s a gap that grew during an era in
which the black middle class also grew and when many more African-American
students, including me, went to and graduated from college.
So, what gives?
The study cites many reasons, including an education gap, unemployment, but
also the number which is the key one, which is about how many years a
household has owned a home and what kind of house it was.
According to the studies` findings, of all of the contributing factors the
duration of homeownership was the biggest wedge of all, driving that wealth
gap ever higher.
And as the "Atlantic`s" Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote of the study this week,
black-white inequality has been for most of American history a public
Joining us to break down more of the study`s findings is one of its primary
authors and director of Brandeis University`s Institute on Asset and Social
Policy, Tom Shapiro. Also here with me, Heather McGee, the vice president
for policy and outreach for Demos. Also, Matthew Wilson, a political
science professor at Southern Methodist University, and James Perry, who
executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center --
and I say his name that way, because he is my husband.
OK, Tom, I want to start with you, because this is -- the study coming out
of your center. Remind people the difference between income and wealth.
THOMAS SHAPIRO, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY : Great. Thanks for having me here.
Income is what we earn on our jobs, so the paycheck or substitutes for it,
whether that`s Social Security, or whether that`s unemployment. It`s the
money basically, it`s a stream of resources that come in and out of our
households and most of us use it for daily purposes, and there`s not much
if anything left over at the end of the month. And, in fact, way too many
of us have depth at the end of that month in our credit card.
Wealth is something quite different. It`s part of the income stream, but
it`s a stored warehouse of resources. It`s more like a deep pond, that
warehouse that we can draw upon when we need it in terms of contingencies
or crises, but maybe more importantly for American society, it`s that the
investment capital we have in our own well-being, for human skill
development, for education, for buying that home, for all kinds of things.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, I think it`s counterintuitive to people that the income
gap could be narrowing, that more people in a group could be going to
college, but at the same time, the wealth gap could be growing. How is
SHAPIRO: That`s the question that really drove the heart of our study.
It`s the increase in that racial wealth gap. It`s almost about tripled
over the last 25 years and a generation. What we really were looking is
the same set of families walking through the experience of American society
-- schools, homes, jobs, American policy.
And in our analysis, we were able to tear a lot of that apart and put it
back together and ask the question, what accounts for that $151,000
increase in the racial wealth gap. And indeed, we captured it through
And that homeownership piece, James, I know this is your work, is the
question of fair housing, and how fair housing either leads to fair or
JAMES PERRY, GREATER NOLA FAIR HOUSING ACTION CTR.: Sure. In America, the
deck has been stacked for the entirety of this whole process. And so, the
result has been that African-Americans have not had access to
You know, think about this idea, that this concept of the wealth gap really
starts with slavery, right? And at that point African-Americans, of
course, not only don`t own property, but are property.
PERRY: And white Americans start owning property at the beginning of this
great nation, right? So, it`s not until 1968 with the Jones versus Mayer
lawsuit that African-Americans first have the same opportunity as white
Americans to own, transfer and sell property.
So it`s only 45 years ago that black Americans have the same right to be
able to own homes and sell property that white Americans have. So, the gap
is real, and the issue becomes how do we fix it? How do we change that?
HARRIS-PERRY: And build itself overtime, right?
HEATHER MCGEE, DEMOS: Wealth is really where history shows up in your
wallet. The fact that I can go to an Ivy League school, I can have a great
upper middle class income and yet still have no inheritance, even just from
a little bit, $15,000 from my grandparents to go to college, that wasn`t
there. So, what do you do? You go into debt instead.
And you talk about 45 years ago, which was a really important water shed,
just having the legal right guaranteed to be able to own and sell property,
but only 20-sometihng years ago was the government finally -- did the
government finally stop redlining whole neighborhoods for mortgage
insurance and when did private lenders stop targeting communities of colors
with subprime loans?
PERRY: I`m not sure.
MCGHEE: Still today.
MATTHEW WILSON, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Well, I think
that the study raises a lot of really interesting and provocative things
for us to think about. And basically it suggests, that over the last
several decades, there has been a stable model for wealth accumulation, and
economic process for the white middle class and upper middle class.
HARRIS-PERRY: And that`s homeownership.
WILSON: Well, not only that, but a formula that says, go to college, get
married, buy a home, save for retirement. What the study suggests is that
all of those things combined have worked well to promote increasing
affluence among the white middle class. But each one of those have been
less effective for black Americans, and going to college has produced lower
returns for African-Americans. Marriage producers less return for African-
Americans. Homeownership produces less appreciation, et cetera, et cetera.
So, that model that we have established for the white prosperity that has
worked well for America over the last several decades, the question is, how
can we extend that to a broader segment of the American populace (ph).
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t want people to miss sort of the way you are saying
that, because it`s important that part of what happens when we talk about
the wealth accumulation is that we assume it is about individual choices,
but in fact, each of these choices have what is called a flatter curve, a
flatter slope that it is not as steep. Each year of education does not
bring as much return to you. Each additional -- the likelihood of going
from unmarried to married does not bring as much return to you.
Now, James, part of the reason it happens in the housing market is because
black bodies and brown bodies actually reduce the value of the very homes
they buy. Am I missing that?
PERRY: No, it`s absolutely right. And you know that in the city of New
Orleans, for instance, where we live, that racial segregation is a real
factor. And if you live in a majority of the African-American
neighborhood, even if your home is the exactly the same as a home in the
white neighborhood, it`s worth less.
PERRY: And it`s just because it`s a black neighborhood.
I think the other great point that the study makes is this idea that it`s
not what choices individual make, it`s what systems are doing that impact
your life, and whether or not you can ever grow up.
HARRIS-PERRY: Tom, I wanted to -- as I was reading this, I want folks to
really get sort of how intense this gap is. So, I was going back and
looking at, if we take -- not just race, but we start to narrow it down and
there was a recent study showing that African-American women, all women of
color who are unmarried, the median wealth for unmarried women is $5. The
cushion, the deep pond is $5.
Like for me that was -- and when we know that unmarried women in
communities of color are more likely to be raising children, like that to
me told such an enormous story.
SHAPIRO: Right. There is no deep pond. It`s a mirage in the wilderness
quite frankly that does not exist out there.
PERRY: It`s a desert.
SHAPIRO: It is that desert, and in fact for the median to be $5 and half
above and half below, we are talking about, you know, up 49 percent or so
of that population living constantly in debt and not having an emergency
fund, not being able to do anything if a crisis comes up, if the car breaks
an axle in the winter, if food runs out at the end of the month. There are
just all kinds of contingencies that can`t be met. It`s just a -- it`s
That`s what -- for me, that`s what wealth speaks to. It`s about that
ability to move ourselves and our families and our communities forward.
It`s stalled (ph).
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s also more expensive for government, right? If, in
fact, people only have $5 in personal wealth, then if you get sick or you
get divorced or you miss, you know, a week of work, guess who picks that
up, right? Taxpayers.
WILSON: That`s right. And the dependency on the state is not something
that`s good for anybody. It`s not good for the individual. It`s not good
for society to have large numbers of people dependent on the state for
But if their wealth is functionally zero, then there are few alternatives
to state dependency and that becomes really problematic.
The other thing, though, and I think it was important that you raise,
Melissa, is that this isn`t story just not about race. It`s not just about
black and white. It`s about class as well, because one of the really
interesting things in your study was that you found that when blacks and
whites are actually starting from the same position in terms of how much
wealth they have, the outcome of the additional is very much more nearly
The problem is that race and class are so correlated in our society that
most African-Americans are starting at a lower income threshold and
therefore every additional dollar gets thrown into immediate needs as
opposed to accumulating long term wealth and capital.
PERRY: When you talk about how you -- so, we started the conversation with
government, right, and I think the important thing to consider is that
government had an active role in creating this gap in the first place,
right? So, not just the extreme circumstance of slavery, but also when it
came to homeownership, there was a system whereby you can get an FHA loan
if you were white, but you could get it if you`re African-American.
And so, the government created the gap. So when talking about fixing the
gap, the government has the ability to fix the gap, right, and it`s through
the policies that the government enacts, and when you hear your elected
official say to you, well, you know, it`s all about the family and it`s all
about what this person chooses to do or not to do, the question you have to
ask to your elected officials is what policy are you going to put in place
that`s going to help to change this gap, because it helped create it. So,
certainly, it can fix it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, Senator Jeff Sessions has something to say about that,
and when we come back, I`m going to lose my mind, because what he had to
say about that was pretty distressing. More on the claim of Senator Jeff
Sessions that had all of us in Nerdland wondering, can the man add? That`s
HARRIS-PERRY: Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama recently raised
some eyebrows when he released a document that implied that federal
benefits give low income families a higher standard of living than middle
income households. The case Session is trying to make is about welfare and
it`s a familiar one. In fact, it sounds a little bit like Reagan`s welfare
queen myth, but with statistics.
And let`s get a look at those statistics, because it seems Senator Session
got a little creative. Here is the graphic from the document he posted to
the Senate Budget Committee site back in December, showing that the welfare
spending per day and per hour outpaces the median income per day and per
Translation? Poor people are getting over -- getting right over right on
you, regular Americans, and you know who has been helping them? The evil
Except not so much, because the nonprofit Center for Budget and Policy
Priorities crunched those same numbers and they determine that it was
deeply flawed, noting that it substantially overstates the assistance that
poor households receive. And that`s because Sessions stats count things
like payments to doctors and nursing homes as welfare. And that`s just a
taste of what`s wrong with Sessions, and what he is saying.
How can we attack the problem of poverty seriously if people like the
senator are going to inflate their stats to fit their argument?
How do we take this seriously? I mean, here I am looking at your study and
it is longitudinal, but then I have Sessions saying, we`re just giving too
much to the poor.
MCGHEE: Can I just say there are so many problems that went about this?
First of all, I think it is important to dig into it, because it`s really
shocking. It`s already become a total meme on the right. You already got
talk radio doing it. I said something about poverty on Twitter the other
day, people were throwing these numbers back at me.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s no poverty.
So, first of all, it counts payments as part of welfare. First of all,
there`s a problem in the definition of welfare. And half of that, welfare
is Medicaid, which is, (a), we all know most of us goes to payments to
doctors and hospitals, right, and other providers. And then a lot of it
goes to end of life care for very sick and dying middle income people who
shield or spend down their assets to be able to afford long term care,
because we don`t have a long term care system in this country.
But it doesn`t count when it compares that figure to the average income, it
doesn`t say employers-sponsored health care is part of the average income,
or, you know, the money that goes to the schools and the communities on the
average middle class sort of side is actually part of that.
It also does a ridiculous thing where it counts programs that go to people
above the poverty line, but then puts the denominator only below the
And then, finally, it just creates this lie that we have this incredibly
generous welfare state which, of course, is an important sort of
undercurrent of the war on government and the deficit hysteria, right,
because if the government does not mean FAA and food inspections to people,
but rather means big gilded checks going to undeserving people, then yes, I
might be more supportive of the radical anti-government agenda.
But the fact is that when low-income people, people under the poverty line,
receive means-tested benefits, it still for the average doesn`t even let
them crest above the poverty line. That`s the fact.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I was going to say, not even close above the poverty
line, even when we count the things that are going as right cash payments,
in part because TANF, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, has been frozen
since 1996, right?
HARRIS-PERRY: And let me also just suggest that part of what`s going on
there is that wages have decreased, right? So, also part of the reason
he`s able to show that is because in fact the working poor are the working
poor and that is not an indication that we are generous. That is an
indication that we are not generous.
SHAPIRO: So part of it goes back to the "Bloomberg" cover, where you have
the same mean being run out where it`s people greedy for stuff --
SHAPIRO: -- and getting more stuff.
But here`s a little bit of perspective -- annually in the United States, we
spend about $400 billion investing in individual wealth creation, and the
huge majority of that goes to the top 1 percent and 5 percent. It`s mostly
in the form of mortgage interest deduction and then pension policy.
In fact, if budgets really reflect priorities, we spend more money in the
United States subsidizing homeownership for the middle class and the well-
to-do than we do for the people who are poor and need shelter.
WILSON: Well, that`s right.
First of all, I will say that I am profoundly shocked that a politician in
Washington would use misleading statistics to advance a talking point.
That never happens.
HARRIS-PERRY: That never happens on either side, right?
WILSON: No, neither liberals nor conservatives ever advanced bogus
statistics to support of their cause.
HARRIS-PERRY: But makes it harder to teach that at the college level,
because students will tell us facts can say anything. And that`s not in
WILSON: But on this particular question, I think that the point that you
made is exactly right that if we are going to seriously look at concerns
about fiscal discipline, if we`re going to seriously look at concerns about
our budget deficit, we have a tendency to focus -- whether we are on the
left or the right -- either on the poor or the wealthy as the people who
are the problem.
Those aren`t the problem. I mean, honestly, where we are spending in this
country is on massive middle class entitlements. Welfare -- welfare,
sorry, Social Security, Medicare predominantly benefit middle class people.
And, look, there are programs that are popular, there are programs that
serve a good purpose, but all this talk about, you know, people on welfare
are sucking up all this government money is just not true. That`s a
fantasy. It`s not the poor who are drawing this --
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s the old.
WILSON: Well, it`s the old --
WILSON: That`s right. That`s where the money is in terms of government
spending is for entitlement programs that for the most part benefit middle
HARRIS-PERRY: It is tough to build a political coalition against the old.
It is much easier to build a political coalition against the poor.
PERRY: Well, I will say that even if you look at Sessions` numbers from
his perspective, the message is -- Senator, do your job, because we need
more jobs, right? And I think, ultimately, if he is right, then it means
that Congress should be working to make sure that there are more job
opportunities, and therefore increasing the opportunities for middle class.
But they`re not doing that.
I mean, quite obviously, they are entering into the sequester to ensure
HARRIS-PERRY: And let`s talk about the sequester for a second, because it
does feel to me -- not only fewer job opportunities, but if we go back to
the discussion just before the break, you cannot earn your way out of the
wealth gap, right? You can close an income gap with earnings, you cannot
earn your way out of the wealth gap.
So, what kind of public policy then are we talking about that`s politically
feasible, right, that can, in fact, start to move us towards narrowing that
wealth gap, not just by making the people of the top floor?
PERRY: Well, let me start by saying, I think anything is politically
feasible, but it takes time to change the conversation around the issues.
And so, you know that I`m a big defendant and supporter of the low income
housing trust fund. And this is an idea that -- we have talked about on
the show -- that it can end homelessness within a period of about five to
10 years if it were fully funded. So, the policy is out there, and the
opportunity out there, but you got to think big, you can`t start with this
idea that individuals are making bad decisions.
And I got to say that the president, you know, he gets a bad rap on a lot
of the stuff that he does, but he is taking steps to move some of these
systemic issues. So, for instance the U.S. Department of HUD just put out
a disparate rule, which is this idea that you don`t have to have
intentional discrimination to prove in court that discrimination is
happening, but instead, sometimes it is system is that didn`t mean to
discriminate that harm people, and that`s what happening see happening in
the housing market right now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, in part because housing and race are so connected.
We`re going to stay on this, because I`ve got to tell you, you think I was
mad at Scalia or Sessions? Wait until I tell you about the folks at
HARRIS-PERRY: Remember when Florida Governor Rick Scott shortly after
taking office in 2011 made drug-testing welfare recipients a thing? Yes.
And any and all Florida residents receiving benefits from the Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF program, would have the permanent
memory of urinating in a cup in order to get benefits from the state,
because Rick Scott said. Well, thankfully, a court decision put a stop to
And this week, a higher federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban.
But despite that, judging by what also happened in Indiana this week, the
idea of drug testing welfare recipients is still catching on.
So, we have in Indiana this decision -- it`s a proposal to require
recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to take, I love this,
"written drug tests." And it was passed by the House of Representatives.
So they know that you are not allowed to take the urinalysis so they`re
going to ask you questions like, do you need a drink to steady your nerves
in the morning? And that`s about to be the answer yes for me if I keep
dealing with this stuff.
Seriously, this feels like intrusive in a level that is appalling, and it
is all about these unworthy poor people.
WILSON: Yes. But it should not be difficult to pass an exam that asks
you, are you on crack? You could presumably say no, and that qualifies
HARRIS-PERRY: And then you`re lying to the government.
WILSON: Well, of course, I`m joking.
But, yes, the idea of a written drug test is somewhat absurd.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. I mean, so the written test. But then even this idea -
- I mean, I think if we were to talk about in part going to your idea of so
many of the government benefits are invisible, right? So should students
at a state university before they can enroll for school have to take a drug
test at the beginning of every single semester, because they are getting
state benefits, should seniors have to take a drug test before they get
their Medicare? I mean --
PERRY: How many students would --
HARRIOS-PERRY: It would be the end of --
PERRY: It would shut down the whole Louisiana State University System.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, I mean, seriously. And, in fact, if you are under 21,
even alcohol in your system ought to mean that --
WILSON: I am a graduate of Louisiana State University and I resent that.
I do not think that every student at Louisiana State University would fail
a drug test. I must say.
PERRY: Not everyone, but enough to make it really difficult --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, they are filling the classrooms.
SHAPIRO: But, look at how we embed these invisible change into our laws
all of the time like that. We are beginning to expect that for the so-
called welfare clients. But what we do last year, we passed the estate tax
that exempts $5 million from any taxation to what else? We index it to
inflation. Minimum wage isn`t index to inflation.
SHAPIRO: -- food stamp money and stamp money, nothing else is -- other
than security benefits occasionally. But for the wealthy, we`re going to
index for inflation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. For a policy that is only going to benefit a tiny
proportion, but will benefit them exponentially. I mean, the amount of
wealth that is concentrated in those few families that actually have the
SHAPIRO: It`s way less than 1 percent that even eligible to pay that
HARRIS-PERRY: So, maybe we should drug test them?
SHAPIRO: Maybe we should.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, you have to have a drug test. But it does feel like
this is very much about the notion of worthiness and that it connects back
with Jeff Sessions` idea that we are giving too much money to the unworthy
MCGHEE: Absolutely. And which is really ridiculous, because first of all,
you know that we know that 70 percent of low income families are working.
Second of all, we know that since the reform of welfare and the ending of
welfare as we knew it in 1996, we`ve seen a time when again, through the
fault of, you know, a deregulated Wall Street, we have an incredible amount
of economic pain in the country and increase in poverty and now, two out of
every four people do not get even any kind of cash assistance.
And there is also this real fallacy that has been promulgated since the
1980s when our friend Justice Roberts was working the try to dismantle
civil rights from inside of the DOJ. I just had to add that piece of
We have seen an idea that equates welfare with color. It`s simply not
true. The first welfare that we ever had in the New Deal was expressively
written with Social Security to not actually include people of color,
MCGHEE: Because it was not eligible, and you were not eligible if you were
a domestic worker or farm worker and who is that?
HARRIS-PERRY: When we finally took the racism out of the welfare state in
this country with the great society, then you started to see this
But "The New York Times" reported that actually, we are seeing a reversal
and return back to the racial skewing of the welfare state, and the fact
that 22 percent of African-Americans are poor, but only there are only 14
percent of beneficiaries. And 42 percent -- sorry, white Americans are 42
percent of the poor, but receive 69 percent of the benefits.
But if you ask most people listening to talk radio, who is going to be drug
test susceptible? It`s not the white American.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This idea of (INAUDIBLE).
James, I want to give you the last word, because it keeps our marriage
healthy. And so, I want to know, how do we then push back on the notion of
poverty and race sitting together like that? Because it feels like to me
when Jeff Sessions who is from Alabama, which is the 46th state on poverty,
right, and extremely poor state can make these kinds of statements about
poverty, it is because of an assumption of people of color.
PERRY: Well, there is a lot of work to be done, and I think the first work
is really making sure that everyone is clear what the problem is. I think
the study goes a long way in doing that, but the second is that we really
have to stay strong in litigating the issues, because for the most part the
changes in civil rights law over the last several decades, it comes from
litigation. That`s our opportunity on the small scale to change what`s
happening when the system advances.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So even though I`m terrified of the Supreme Court
right now, we keep fighting it through the courts.
All right. Thank you, Mr. Perry. I`m going to see you later after the
And the rest are all staying for more.
When we come back, how Michael Bloomberg is building himself a little
HARRIS-PERRY: Tuesday, the race to fill an Illinois House seat vacated by
Jesse Jackson, Jr. made headlines. The winner of the Democratic primary
Robin Kelly became a political star overnight and not just because she won,
but because of how she won. The gun control advocate and former state
representative came from behind to defeat former Congressman Debbie
Halvorson who was backed by the NRA.
Now, though, the race was in Illinois, Kelly`s past runs right through New
York City, and thanks to the city`s mayor and avid gun control advocate,
Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire spent more than $2 million of his own
money on ads attacking Kelly`s opponent. Now, to be sure, Bloomberg`s
money wasn`t the only factor in Kelly`s victory, but his influence suggests
that the gun lobby no longer has the monopoly on the public arena.
Bloomberg is putting is money where his mouth is and positioning himself as
the political counterweight to the juggernaut that is the NRA. His super
PAC, Independence USA, has become involved in eight state and congressional
races since its creation late year, and five of the candidates he backed,
also supporters of gun control, won.
The candidates like Kelly understand that the Bloomberg support is not
really about them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN KELLY (D-IL), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: He didn`t do it on my behalf.
I look at it that he did it on behalf of the families around the country,
on behalf of mothers and fathers that have already lost their children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It looks like $2 million buys a lot of praise, which is
certainly better than things that the last congressman who vacated the seat
in Illinois was buying with his campaign contributions. Yes, I am looking
at you Jesse, Jr.
But as much as progressives may be enthusiastic of what is a good
billionaire with a super PAC countering the influence of bad billionaires
with super PACs, let me encourage everybody to pause for a moment, a
healthy democracy is not for sale, even if you like the guy who is buying.
Up next, the scathing report that proves the wealthy really are stacking
HARRIS-PERRY: The title says it all, "Stacked Deck". The dominance of
politics by the affluent and business undermine economic mobility in
America. That is the report from the research and policy organization,
Demos. And it`s a clear reminder that our democracy is not working as it
Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report" is back with us at table.
But, first, I want to turn to the vice president of policy and outreach for
Demos, Heather McGhee.
All right. This is your report. And it turns out that some things
apparently are for sale and potentially it`s our government and we know
MCGHEE: Yes. We went to look at this question of how it is that something
that we have certainly kind of taken for granted now which is the dominance
of our politics by the very wealthy, by the millionaires and the
billionaires who make up a majority of the campaign spending by the less
than 1 percent who actually are giving to campaigns and setting the rules
and deciding who can win elections.
How does that affect our economy? And we have to look at in order to sort
of unpack that was a lot of political science research that`s recent,
that`s shown that actually there is a big difference in the way
particularly the wealthy and the rest of the country think not just about,
you know, climate change or gun control as Mayor Bloomberg gives you an
example of, but actually when it comes to down to questions of the way the
economy is structured, that`s where you see the biggest difference.
So, for example, the vast majority of Americans think that no full time
worker should work full time and still in poverty. Minimum wage behind us
to prevent that.
But actually among the wealthy, the donor class, that`s the minority of the
donor class actually agrees with that. Where are we now? In a place where
someone can work full time and still be in poverty.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know -- all right. So in a certain way, the results of
the study are not shocking. You know, oh, the wealthy have more influence
in politics, really, that is in and of itself is not shocking. What does
feel like a thing that`s sort of surprising maybe is the extent to which
the interests of the wealthy are mirrored in the policies of the
government. It always felt like you would have the people or you would
have money and you got put people power against money power, right, and
there just would be sort of different currencies you could spend. And now,
it feels like there`s only one currency that you can spend.
AMY WALTER, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORTER: So, you know, I`m going to keep
beating this horse about polarization, but I`m going to go to the primaries
for one second. And so, we talked so much about the political system and
the donor class. But remember that the primaries are in so many districts
what elect these people, right?
We have very conservative Republicans, those are the can make it through a
primary. Only very liberal Democrats can make it through a Democratic
primary. And the people they talk to are even a smaller class than the
people who are donor class, right? And the people that are --
HARRIS-PERRY: And where the very liberal Democrats?
WALTER: They`re up there. They`re just -- but so, the pointing, there`s
like this feedback, because if you talk to the members of Congress, they
will say, I don`t know what you are talking about, everyone I hear from
since the deficit is the number one issue. Why are you saying I`m ignoring
MCGHEE: They`re unfortunately not talking to their voters. They`re
talking to the people that they spent one of three minutes talking to,
which is their call list.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, right.
MCGHEE: And the problem is that it is shown up in the policy outcomes and
take for example the capital gains rate which you can compare to minimum
wage. There is a Princeton professor who found --
HARRIS-PERRY: Marty Gilens.
MCGHEE: Well, actually, this one is Larry Bartels.
MCGHEE: That found that preferences of the bottom third of the income
distribution have no apparent impact on the behavior of their elected
officials. Now, take that and think of the minimum wage. Now, on the
other hand, look at the donor class and how it actually match almost
precisely with the people who get the vast majority benefit from a wealth
tax cut, and recognize that we have continued to cut the capital gains
rate, while we have not been able to increase the minimum wage.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Matt?
WILSON: Now, there are some respects like when you mentioned where it`s
obvious that there`s a real influence of policy by the donor class. Of
course, there are other areas where the donor class seems to have been
thwarted in its political preferences. So, for example --
HARRIS-PERRY: The 2012 presidential election.
WILSON: Right. But also, as we have been saying, one of the real
priorities of the donor class is deficit reduction. We haven`t seen a lot
of deficit reduction.
MCGHEE: Oh, I beg to differ, because we have seen $1.5 trillion in deficit
WILSON: Well --
MCGHEE: And most importantly, we`ve seen the deficit reduction completely
take away from the political response to the 25 million Americans who don`t
have enough or any work. That is actually a really great example of the
difference of the donor class and the rest of America.
WILSON: OK. All right. But I don`t believe that anybody would say that
we`re on a trajectory towards a balanced budget. That`s where the donor
class would like us to be, but we`re not.
Here`s my bigger point. Also, the donor class tends to favor more socially
liberal policies like gun control. We don`t have a lot of gun control
happening in this country, because of the interests on the other side.
So, I mean, there are cases where they are successful. There are some
where they`re not. I think you made an excellent point about how it`s in
primaries where this money can really show up and really have a huge
effect, because primaries are cases where the candidates don`t start out
with name recognition.
HARRIS-PERRY: Granted, but I guess -- but I would take issue with is the
idea that it is polarization from both sides, that it is both the very
conservative and the very liberal, and mostly, because when we look at sort
of how the voting has turned out in Congress and even looking at President
Obama on the one hand, thwarting of at least one aspect of the sort of bad
billionaires, but the fact that he had an enormous amount of money poured
in to his campaign and those interests do seem to cross party ideology,
right, the donors at the top whether Democrats or Republicans, liberal or
conservative, have an interest in shoring up their economic benefits.
MCGHEE: Absolutely. And you really do see that in fact that some of the
differences in terms of the social issues do fade away when you get to the
economic. There is an economic consensus that even more progressive or
more progressive wealthy Americans actually will not actually feel like
corporate regulation is a good idea even though they may favor marriage
equality for gay Americans.
WALTER: So, the other thing of the report that is interesting, and I think
it goes to the point in some ways about the primaries as well is the drop-
off in participation rate, right, in terms of who is voting and who is not.
And the people who have wealth are voting more than people who don`t.
And when I say this is who they are hearing from, they go to their town
hall meetings, and the people that are showing up at the town hall meetings
are not the people who are --
HARRIS-PERRY: Who are working.
WALTER: Exactly. Or they are people who I have, I thought about this the
other when I was at my son`s school event, and I knew everybody there had
to have child care and I thought, these are faces who can afford child
WALTER: And those are the people that show up, and so, when
representatives come home and say, I was just at five town hall meetings,
and that`s what everybody told me --
WALTER: Because they are the people who can show up on a Wednesday
HARRIS-PERRY: Right, because even participation cost, right? So, there is
a way in which this wealth gap also is a participation gap.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to everybody -- Tom, and Heather and Matt and Amy.
I feel like "Romper Room".
But we`re going to have much more in just a moment. But, first, it`s time
for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT".
ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hello to you, Melissa.
This is one strange and tragic story, everyone. It`s coming out of Florida
where a sinkhole apparently swept a man to his death. We are getting more
March Madness Washington, D.C.-style. Fill out your brackets, which state
will be hit with the most dramatic sequestration cuts. How about guessing
what date will Congress and the president reached an agreement to solve the
And "Argo" got the headlines, but this story really a fight in 33 years of
making. It is one worth hearing about the Iran hostages, those who were
held captive for 444 days. You`re going to hear about their new fight.
And NAACP head Ben Jealous joins me to talk about the Supreme Court and the
Voting Rights Act.
Melissa, something that will keep you interested, too.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, it`s a busy week in politics.
WITT: Yes, indeed.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you, Alex.
Up next, our foot soldier Ben Simon is here live and he is changing lives
every night. It`s the one person I`m not mad at on the show today, Ben
HARRIS-PERRY: Every week, we close out our Saturday show with a segment we
call foot soldiers. And we use the space to highlight individuals or small
groups that are out there finding new ways to create change and empower
others in their own communities.
Five weeks ago, we brought you the story of Ben Simon, a senior at the
University of Maryland, College Park.
Ben found a way, through the volunteer power of students, to donate unsold
food from his campus dining hall to food banks and shelters in his
community. What started in one university soon expanded to 13 campuses
around the country. Thanks to Ben and his friends.
And so much has happened to Ben and his organization, the food recovery
network since we named them our foot soldiers that week that we decided to
bring Ben in to tell us all about it.
Hi, Ben. So nice to have you here.
BEN SIMON, FOUNDER, "FOOD RECOVERY NETWORK": Thank you so much for having
HARRIS-PERRY: So what`s been going on the past five weeks?
SIMON: We`ve had a really exciting past five weeks. Thank you so much for
the exposure. It was our first national TV coverage and we got an amazing
outpouring of support from your viewers, I`m sure the same people who are
watching right now.
SIMON: Within a week, we had 30 to 40 new chapter applications. That`s
students who applied to start a Food Recovery Network chapter at their
college campus. So, we got a lot of donations. Our Facebook page blew up.
It was crazy.
Hitting refresh and having like 200 more likes after like a minute. It was
crazy, and just a lot of love. People saying, you know, finally you guys
are doing something like this. This is amazing.
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the things that we loved about what you`re doing is
that you actually did the research to find out the laws that made it
HARRIS-PERRY: Because as you said to us previously, people think they
can`t. So why is it that people can, in fact, do something like the food
SIMON: Yes, it`s very true. This is a huge issue. It`s misinformation.
And people the dining managers and the restaurant managers, grocery store
managers, people who are in charge of making that decision whether or not
to give the food away or to throw the food away really are widely unaware
of this act called the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act. It`s a law passed
in 1996 signed into law by Bill Clinton. And it basically provides nearly
blanket liability protection for all good faith donors donating food to
somebody in need in their community.
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, that is pretty astonishing, that, in fact, we have a
choice in business, in a university, not to throw away the unused food but
instead to redistribute it. If I`m at a university, if I didn`t see it the
first time and I`m thinking, whoa, I want to do that, what`s the process,
other than liking you on the Facebook page?
SIMON: So have them get in touch with us. Anybody can shoot an e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us at foodrecovery.org.
But usually, actually, the new chapter process starts with students. It
can start with the dining hall managers. That`s great, too. But
typically, we have to find a group or four or five committed students who
get in touch with us. We send them what`s called a new chapter tool kit.
And basically through a series of weekly conference calls coach them
through starting a new chapter.
HARRIS-PERRY: You guys are building out from a campus totally volunteer
organization into something else. What is it?
SIMON: So that`s absolutely right. So, you know, we started in September
2011 at the University of Maryland, College Park. We`re now at actually 18
different college campuses. And that`s actually a huge announcement they
didn`t get a chance to mention was that in the past five weeks since that
coverage, we`ve been able to start five new chapters.
SIMON: That`s like a chapter a week. So we`re really, really having
incredible explosive growth. And we -- what we realize is that we need to
do this full time. I mean, this is an amazing, amazing thing that needs to
exist. You know, we can`t keep wasting all this food.
So, currently, we have a national leadership team of about eight students
at different college campuses working about anywhere from five to 20 hours
a week just volunteering on the project to make it happen. But we`re
fundraising right now for our first full time budget and professionalizing
the non-profit to go full time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, you`re going to do good. You`re going to do -- you`re
going to do it in a way that brings in volunteers, people in the community.
But you`re also going to become job creator, right?
SIMON: Exactly, exactly.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s pretty extraordinary.
In fact it makes me want to introduce you to MSNBC`s president Phil
Griffin, because we have one of the things we`re very proud of here at 30
Rock is the new NBC Universal dining hall. I got me to thinking I wonder
what`s going on with our food upstairs.
SIMON: You know, if you haven`t heard of something chances are you guys
are probably throwing out your extra food at the end of the day. We would
love to help you out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Maybe you and Phil could have a conversation later.
Thank you to Ben Simon. Really, the work that you`re doing is
extraordinary. I love the idea of a chapter a week. That will be 52 by
the end of the year. That`s a great thing.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching.
And also, by the way a very happy birthday to Michelle`s mom Marie.
I will be back tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern when we dive deep
into corporate greed. That`s right, the BP trial. And I got one more
little angry rant. You know that C word tweet that rocked the world on
Oscar nights? I got something to say about that.
Coming up, "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT."
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